How To: Buy data recovery software

Whether you suffer a hard drive crash or simply delete an important file by accident, every PC user loses data sooner or later. Data recovery services are expensive, so software that allows you to recover your data yourself is a popular alternative. However, there are a great many data recovery products on the market from a number of different publishers. Which is the right one for your needs? This article will help you choose the best data recovery software.

One of the most important things to consider is the company that makes the software. Like anti-virus, anti-spyware and computer troubleshooting products, data recovery software meets an urgent need, making it easy to sell. There are many poor undelete products around, sold by general utilities vendors who see them as just another make-money-quick product. It's better to choose software from a company that specializes in data recovery, because that company's reputation depends upon the effectiveness of its products.

Data recovery software can be split into several different categories. There are products designed to recover data from hard drives and other disk-like media such as floppy drives, USB memory sticks, memory cards and even digital cameras and MP3 players that look like removable drives when connected to the computer. Then there are products developed specifically to recover data from other types of media such as CDs and DVDs or mobile phone SIM cards. Because these other types of media store data in a different way to hard drives, you need special recovery software to get any data from them.

Undelete software

Hard drive data recovery software is a big category containing a lot of products, so this can be further sub-divided. Recovery of deleted files is the most common requirement, and there are many inexpensive products that can perform just this task. While there is little to choose between many of them other than cost and ease of use, we have come across some surprisingly poor performers. The best undelete software - as voted by the thousands of people who have purchased this product through - is Uneraser from the data recovery specialist DiskInternals. However iUndelete, though less popular, also does a good job.

Full data recovery software

There are many other ways besides deletion that can cause data can be lost, for example disk corruption, partition or boot sector corruption, formatting the drive or overwriting some data. Recovering data when this has occurred requires a range of techniques, such as the ability to repair a partition table or deep-scan the drive to reconstruct files from fragments. Full data recovery products tend to be more expensive than undelete utilities, because of the extra functionality they must have.

One of the best full data recovery products we have found is DiskInternals' Partition Recovery, but Data Recovery Wizard from Easeus is an excellent alternative. If you simply need to repair the partition table in order to regain access to your data then Partition Table Doctor (also from Easeus) will provide an inexpensive solution.

Email recovery software

Data recovery software can also be categorized by the type of data you wish to recover - for example, Microsoft Word documents, emails or photos.

Email recovery can require special recovery software. Emails are generally stored in large database files and a different approach is needed depending on whether the entire mail database is lost, or just some important emails. Recovering the whole database is a normal data recovery operation, but if only some important messages are lost you need software that understands the database structure and can look inside it to recover them. An example of such a product is Mail Recovery.

File type specific recovery software

Products also exist that are designed principally to recover files of certain types, such as Microsoft Office documents, photos or music files. These products employ the same recovery techniques as the more general products mentioned earlier, and in some vendors' ranges the name is the main difference between the products. But file type specific products may also employ recovery methods that exploit a knowledge of the structure of the file or document they are recovering.

DOC Regenerator and XLS Regenerator, for example, are able to reconstruct Microsoft Word DOC and Excel XLS files from fragments of previously saved documents. This can enable them to recover documents when other products would fail. However, sometimes a good deep-scan search is all that is needed.

Products like Word Recovery, Excel Recovery and Office Recovery are more up-to-date products that focus on recovering Microsoft Office documents but essentially use the same methods as other data recovery software from the same stable. Their main benefits are ease of use, with excellent "what you see is what you get" preview capabilities for Microsoft Office document types, and the ability to search a drive for documents with Office document-specific attributes like author name or date created. This can greatly ease the task of sifting through all the possible candidates for recovery on a drive which may contain thousands of documents, each with many saved generations.

The same is true of products like Photo Recovery or Flash Recovery aimed at recovering lost photos (a common recovery task) or Music Recovery which is intended to recover MP3 and other music downloads. These are just standard hard disk data recovery products with a user interface that makes it easy to view (or, in the case of music files, listen to) the files that are found prior to recovery.

Media specific recovery software

As mentioned earlier, storage media that employs different file systems (different ways of organizing files) to hard drives requires data recovery software that understands the file systems used on that media type.

To recover data from CD or DVD CD and DVD Recovery is an effective and easy to use tool with excellent preview capabilities for viewing the files you are about to recover. Another powerful optical media recovery tool is IsoBuster.

More information has become one of the major websites for people looking for data recovery software and advice. If you need more help in choosing the best data recovery software for your needs then we have reviews of many different data recovery products, plus do-it-yourself data recovery tutorials, including step-by-step guides for using several of our recommended products.